Imagine a place where you have a massive lake, mountains with marvelous views, and a range of cultural events to keep you entertained. That's the Bodensee region of Vorarlberg in Austria.
I spent three days there and visited three different cities. What follows are my tips on things to do in Bregenz, Feldkirch, and Dornbirn.
- Things to do in Bregenz, Feldkirch, and Dornbirn
- Things to do in Bregenz Austria
- Take the cable car up the Pfänder
- Walk around the Upper Town
- Check out the narrowest house of Europe
- Shop around the Kaiserstrasse
- Go for lunch at the KUB Cafe and Bar
- Visit the KUB
- Visit the Vorarlberg Museum
- Have a drink at Die Welle
- Go on a boat trip on Lake Constance
- Walk along the Bregenz Seepromenade
- Have dinner at Buehnedrei
- In summer, attend the Bregerzer Festspiele
- Things to do in Dornbirn Austria
- Things to do in Feldkirch
- How to get to Bregenz, Feldkirch, and Dornbirn
- Bodensee card
- Don't forget travel insurance
Things to do in Bregenz, Feldkirch, and Dornbirn
Things to do in Bregenz Austria
Take the cable car up the Pfänder
The Pfänder mountain is a popular spot in Bregenz. The Pfänder cable car takes you up and down daily between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. and at the top, you can visit the Alpine Wildlife Park (it's free), go cycling, or go for a hike.
I'd initially planned to hike back down from the mountain to the town center. The shortest trail only takes about an hour and a half, but as it was so hot that day and I was feeling a bit off, I decided to do the 30-minute round-walk of the wildlife park first.
While this is more a walk to do with kids as you see all kinds of alpine animals, it's still a good workout as it descends and ascends quite strongly.
An even shorter walk from the cable car is the one to the viewpoint at 1,064, which is the top of the Pfänder. Now I have to say, the point itself is a bit disappointing, with a cross atop of it and trees kind of blocking the way but there is a lovely looking mountain hut and to the right of the hut, you do get a nice view of Lake Constance, or the Bodensee.
The best view is actually from atop the cable car station. it has a viewing platform that you can easily access via the outdoor staircase. Unfortunately, the platform isn't wheelchair accessible.
If you're thirsty or hungry, there's another restaurant right next to the cable car station. Officially, the Bregenz cable car goes up and down every half hour unless there are at least 10 people, then it will more regularly.
Walk around the Upper Town
From the exit of the cable car station, it's only a 10-minute walk to the Upper Town. This is where the origins of Bregenz lie and you can see the old city walls from quite a distance.
Follow the Stadtsteig up and turn left right before the old city gate to get to the St Martinsturm. or St. Martin's Tower. Today, you can visit temporary exhibitions at the St Martin's Tower and get a great view of Lake Constance, Bregenz's Pfänder mountain and the Swiss mountains from the window gallery.
The tower was built on the same spot as where a warehouse used to be that dated back all the way to the foundation of Bregenz, around 1250.
In the first half of the 14th century, a small chapel was founded on the upper floor which was turned into the St Martin's Chapel in 1362. It was expanded in the following years. In the second half of the 16th century, the building was turned into a watchtower which would keep guard over the city for centuries to come.
You can visit the tower and chapel every day except Wednesdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
After your visit to the tower, stroll through the Graf-Wilhelm-Strasse onto the Amtstorstrasse to get to the Thalbachgasse where you'll find the Thalbach Convent.
The convent isn't the building in the photo above because it isn't really spectacular but it's fun to have a quick look at before you take the small Ernst-Volkmann-Stiege up to the Kirchplatz. There you can see the parish church St. Gallus.
Follow the Kirchstrasse back down to the center. This street has some fun independent shops and it's also where you can find the narrowest house in Europe.
Check out the narrowest house of Europe
Several European cities claim to have the house with the narrowest facade in Europe, but Bregenz might actually be the one that deserves the title. There, at Kirchstraße 29, there's a building with a facade of just 57 cm.
That's almost half the width of Valencia‘s La Estrecha, another house that claims to be the narrowest in Europe but which has a width of 107 cm.
If you're doing some casual Bregenz sightseeing, this is a fun spot to take a photo at.
Shop around the Kaiserstrasse
The Kaiserstrasse is Bregenz' main shopping street. It's not that long, though, but it is car-free and leads you close to the Kornmarktplatz, where you'll find the Kunsthaus Bregenz (KUB) and the Vorarlberg Museum.
Go for lunch at the KUB Cafe and Bar
The Kunsthaus cafe is a nice place to have a light lunch. I had one of their big open sandwiches which was tasty and the waitress made me an iced coffee even though they didn't have it on the menu.
Good food, friendly service, and a terrace that's great for people-watching. What more do you need?
Visit the KUB
When you've finished your lunch and are in the mood for some art (or need some air con in summer), have a look inside the KUB.
The KUB or Kunsthaus Bregenz is a contemporary art museum featuring temporary exhibitions from international artists. It also has its own collection and plays a big role in presenting Vorarlberg's cultural identity through the creation of regional projects.
The Bregenz Kunsthaus building itself is a work of art too, designed by the Pritzker Award-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. It has 1,880 m² of exhibition space spread out over four floors.
When I visited, the Kunsthaus museum had an exhibition on around the work of the German artist Thomas Schütte, who creates both sculptures and drawings.
For practical information on visiting the Kunsthaus Bregenz, please check their website.
Visit the Vorarlberg Museum
Practically next to the KUB, lies the Vorarlberg Museum. It's the perfect place to learn about the history and culture of the region. The permanent collection shows how Vorarlberg is the region it came to be, while temporary exhibitions highlight certain themes or artists.
When I was there, the museum had an exhibition on about the portrait artist Angelika Kauffmann which it kind of “introduced” with three picture frames in the hallway that you could use to take a photo.
They came accompanied by the explanation that, nowadays, it's so easy to take a selfie while in Kauffmann's time, making a portrait required a lot of patience from the model and skill from the artist.
On top of its exhibitions, the Vorarlberg Museum is also known for its panoramic window that offers a view of Lake Constance.
And that's not the only impressive architectural feature of the museum. Its facade is adorned with no less than 16,656 concrete “flowers” that are actually nothing more than the imprints of PET bottles.
Have a drink at Die Welle
Cafe Die Welle or “The Wave”, named after it's flowy shape, lies at the start of the pier near the docks where the lake cruises depart. It's a small cafe with a terrace out in summer and the perfect place to have ice cream (they have quite the choice of coupes) or a drink before or after a cruise.
Alternatively, take a seat on the steps of the pier overlooking the lake. Because of the way they're facing, they're a popular spot to watch the sunset.
Go on a boat trip on Lake Constance
Can you really visit Bregenz without going for a boat trip on the lake? I didn't think so. While there are boats that allow you to do day trips to other places on the lake, you can also just go for a one-hour round trip with Vorarlberg Lines, which is what I did.
The Vorarlberg Lines boat was a modern one, with a spacious air-conditioned lower deck room stretching almost the full length of the boat, leaving space for a few seats outdoors in the back and a bit of standing space in the front.
The upper deck had both an indoor space and a covered outdoor area, both with seats and tables.
To get a good spot, I do recommend being at the pier 10 minutes or so before the boat leaves because when the weather's nice, a lot of people want a spot outside. I snatch a seat on the lower deck outdoors, from where I had a great view of everything we passed.
Good to know:
The boat made a clockwise circle from Bregenz to Lindau and back, which meant the best seats are actually the ones on the left side of the boat when facing forward as that's the side that's closest to the shore at all times.
Also good to know: there are toilets on board and staff walks around to take drink and cake orders.
Walk along the Bregenz Seepromenade
After your trip around the lake, you can walk along the water following the Promenade. The Bregenz part isn't that long but the Seepromenade connects to roads and paths of the neighboring towns, making it possible to go for a really long walk if that's what you're in the mood for.
Have dinner at Buehnedrei
Buehnedrei is the restaurant of the Bregenz Festival and Congress Center. Inside, the restaurant features a modern design and outside, it has a terrace on the beautiful Platz der Wiener Symphoniker am Bodensee.
I went there before seeing the opera Rigoletto at the famous Bregenz Festival with its floating outdoor stage and had dinner at the large terrace. My gnocchi were lovely but it was the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice and whipped cream that really stood out. The cake was just perfect.
The staff was friendly too and it's good to know that this Bregenz restaurant is operational all-year-long, not just when the festival is on.
In summer, attend the Bregerzer Festspiele
Every summer, the Bregenzer Festspiele takes place in Bregenz. If you can, try to snatch a ticket for one of the performances at the floating outdoor stage. I went to see Rigoletto one evening and it was quite special.
I don't understand Italian and I know as good as nothing about opera, but the impressive moving stage alone made it worth attending the show. The performance always starts at 9.15 pm. in July and at 9 p.m. in August, to coincide with sunset, which makes the setting even more spectacular.
Note that if you also want to stay in Bregenz during the Festspiele, you'll have to book a hotel or apartment well in advance as things always sell out. If you're staying outside the city, like I did, you can make free use of public transportation to get to the festival. All you need to do is show your festival ticket.
I hope the above has given you an idea of what to do in Bregenz. Now, let's go to Dornbirn!
Things to do in Dornbirn Austria
Visit the weekly market
Every Wednesday from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. and every Saturday from 8 a.m. until 12.30 p.m., a market takes place on the Marktplatz in Dornbirn. It's rather small but fun to walk through and maybe buy some fresh fruits if you're there anyway.
You can combine your market visit with some Dornbirn shopping. I actually had the impression Dornbirn had more to offer than Bregenz when it comes to the bigger stores.
Stores close earlier on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays, so make sure to plan accordingly.
Have lunch with a view
From the center, make your way to the Karrenseilbahn cable car to go up the Karren mountain and have lunch at the Panoramarestaurant Karren before going on a hike. The Karren restaurant is family-run, but the Nöckl family has a team to help them. That's necessary, as the restaurant boasts 225 seats spread over three indoor areas and 200 seats outdoors.
With its panorama windows and big white umbrellas on the terrace, the restaurant looks nothing like a typical mountain hut, yet the menu does offer mostly “typical” dishes like bread dumplings with mushrooms. Everything is made with local ingredients, as often is the case around the region.
I ordered a salad with turkey slices and an apfelstrudel. The food was good and the service was friendly.
Take a photo at the viewing platform
The view is great from just about everywhere at the Panoramarestaurant but there's this one platform that sticks out a bit over the mountain edge where you can get a great photo, or have your photo taken and sent to you by using the camera that's installed there.
It's a bit cheesy but makes for a fun memory.
Go for a hike
Several hikes depart from the top of the Karren. I initially wanted to do the one that goes back down to the center through the Staufensee and Rappenlochschlucht but because of the heat that day and the lack of time, I opted for the Karrenrunde instead.
The Karrenrunde is a 3.3-km round hike that goes through a foresty area, along an easy-to-walk trail. It is classified as a “moderate” hike and my guess it that's due to the sometimes steep ascents and descents.
Other than that, the route doesn't really offer any obstacles.
When you do the Karrenrunde, you can make a 10-minute detour to a mountain hut that prepares homemade snacks and cakes. You also have nice views up there and you might even spot the farmer's pigs.
The Karrenrunde ends again where it started, at the cable car station, so you can simply take the Karrenseilbahn back down.
Have dinner at Pizzeria Isola Capri
The evening I was having dinner by myself in Dornbirn, I actually was super tired and so I opted to go to the Italian restaurant right next to my hotel, Pizzeria Isola Capri. I'd read the reviews beforehand and when I was there, it was clear that this place is a locals' favorite.
The waiter was lovely to everyone but it was clear that some people came here often, shaking his hand warmly as they stepped into the garden where everyone chose to sit that warm night.
I have to say my Pizza Vegetarana certainly wasn't the best I ever had, but the location of this Dornbirn restaurant (next door!) and friendliness of the waiter totally made up for that. Sometimes you just want something filling and easy.
I do have to say that the plates brought out to others, filled with pasta or meat, did look and smell good too.
Hotels in Dornbirn
I stayed at the Hotel Katharinenhof Comfort, at the time of writing one of the newest hotels in the city and located just a few minutes walking from both the Dornbirn train station and the market square.
This 4-star hotel offers an extensive daily breakfast buffet which can be had in the garden when the weather's nice. WiFi is free throughout the property and each guest receives a complimentary bottle of sparkling water.
All rooms are equipped with a desk, flatscreen tv, and a super comfortable bed – I know, I slept blissfully in it :-) There's also a lounge area with bar and the hotel has an underground parking for guests traveling by car.
Things to do in Feldkirch
I didn't even spend 24 hours in Feldkirch as I arrived there in the evening to visit the Poolbar Festival and then left again before lunch the next day but actually, you don't need a lot of time to see the best of this town.
Walk around the medieval center
Feldkirch's medieval center is very small. You can easily see all of its little streets and monuments in about two hours. That's when you walk slowly, but without actually visiting places.
You could visit the Schattenburg Castle, for example, which is now a museum with a large arms chamber. Other places of interest are the St Nicholas Dom and the Cat's Tower.
It's still not known for sure where this defense tower got its name from, but one theory is that cats heads were once used to serve as practice canon balls.
Attend the Poolbar Festival
The dates of the Poolbar Festival chance every year, but it's always from somewhere in July until somewhere in August. The festival consists of a free meet-and-have-drinks outdoor area and a paid concert area in what used to be an indoor swimming pool.
There's great variety in the program and I was lucky that the night I was there, Os & The Sexual Chocolate as well as Keb'Mo were playing. It was all funk, groove, and soul.
Hotels in Feldkirch
My hotel in Feldkirch for one night was the Best Western Plus Central Hotel Leonard, a modern hotel less than a 15-minute walk from the train station and right at the edge of the old town.
All rooms here are air-conditioned, featuring a big flatscreen tv, a desk, and a spacious bathroom. WiFi is free throughout the property and guest can enjoy the on-site bar, restaurant, and indoor swimming pool.
An extensive breakfast is served every morning in the restaurant overlooking the Mühletorplatz.
How to get to Bregenz, Feldkirch, and Dornbirn
The easiest airport to fly to to get to Bregenz, Feldkirch, and Dornbirn, is Zurich Airport. You can then take a train from Zurich to Bregenz. However, there is no direct Zurich to Bregenz train from the airport. You'll need to switch either in St. Margrethen or in St. Gallen and St. Margrethen.
From Bregenz train station, it's only a short train ride to both Dornbirn and Feldkirch train station with direct connections.
To look up train routes within Europe and buy tickets for connecting trains Omio is a good site.
For flights, I recommend searching on Skyscanner. Skyscanner lets you set flight alerts for your destination and shows you which month the prices are lowest. It's very practical.
In the Bodensee-Vorarlberg region, you can buy the Bodensee Vorarlberg Freizeitkarte (Leisure Card) for 1, 2 or 3 days. The card allows you free use of buses and trains in the whole of Vorarlberg as well as train travel to St. Margrethen, Buchs (Switzerland), St. Anton (Tyrol), and Lindau (Germany).
It also offers access to attractions such as the Karren cable car and you only need to do two things included in the card to earn your money back.
Find more information about the card here.
And that's it! Want to go away for longer than three days? You can combine your trip to the Bodensee-Vorarlberg region with a few days in the Bregenzerwald, or spend an entire week in Vorarlberg.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip, there's always something that can happen that's beyond your control. You twist your ankle on a hike, your luggage never makes it to Vorarlberg, or you drop and break that new camera. In all of these cases, good travel insurance has you covered.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on but if you travel just a few times a year, you can get insured for each trip separately too.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out World Nomads. They cover a wide range of activities for people from 140 countries.
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I was invited to the Bodensee-Vorarlberg region by the Austrian National Tourism Board and the Vorarlberg Tourism Board to be able to write about it.